Environmental justice advocates say climate change isn’t a ‘White thing’
By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Correspondent
The climate crisis is real.
From the devastating extreme weather events made worse by climate change to the public health implications of increased pollution like heightened asthma attacks, communities are feeling the impacts of this crisis first and worst.
Experts said real solution to the climate crisis is needed now to protect the long-term well-being of communities, and for future generations.
“With the Trump administration rolling back environmental and public health safeguards, I am deeply concerned that we are running out of time to do something about this crisis,” said Dana Swinney, a New York-based public relations expert who works with several green organizations across the country.
Information provided by Swinney’s firm noted additional climate crisis health impacts on African Americans, including:
• Number of African Americans that report having asthma: 2.6 million
• Black children are 4.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than White children
• Black children are ten times more likely to die from asthma than White children.
• The increased health burden of particulate air pollution on African Americans compared to the American population overall: 54 percent
• Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.
• Seven million African Americans live within a county that is home to a refinery.
“There is a familiar phrase that goes something like this: if you’re not at the table then you’re on the menu,” said Michelle Mabson, a staff scientist for the Healthy Communities Program at Earthjustice.
Mabson is also a volunteer chief advocacy officer for Black Millennials for Flint.
“Far too often it is our communities – Black and Brown communities – that are not prepared enough, resilient enough, or adaptive enough when climate disasters hit,” Mabson said.
“We look at the devastating impacts from Hurricane Katrina, and more recently Hurricane’s Maria, Harvey, and Dorian, and we see communities that look like ours, nearly destroyed,” she said.
“It is imperative for us to be at the table when decisions, like rebuilding and increasing adaptive community capacity, are discussed so we can get the resources we need to be prepared for the impacts from the next storm. Make no mistake, the next one is on its way, and we can no longer afford to react once it’s here – we’ve got to be prepared,” Mabson said.
African Americans must heavily engage in climate justice and environmental conversation taking place globally, said Heather McTeer Toney, the national field director at Mom Clean Airforce.
More than half of the African American population lives in the South, where they’re four times more likely to be hit with catastrophic flood, hurricane or other extreme weather-related event, Toney said.
“As the impacts of climate change increase, more and more of our communities are devastated. Moreover, An NAACP study found that African American communities are subjected to air that is 40 percent more polluted than other communities,” Toney said.
“When combined with the health impacts such as asthma, cancer, and heart disease; addressing the climate crisis is vital to our continued existence and protection of our children’s future,” she said.
Toney added that it’s not too late to act.
“Climate action is the social justice movement of our time. African-Americans should demand action from state, local and federal leaders on climate action now,” Toney said.
“We must support 100 percent clean energy and require equity in policy that promotes a clean energy economy. We prepare for extreme weather emergencies by working with our churches and community organization to develop action plans for severe weather events,” she said.
Further, “we must talk about ways to become more resilient and sustainable in our home, churches, and schools. We must vote often and always for candidates that talk about climate action now. Our voices are necessary for this movement, and together we can ensure climate safety for generations to come,” Toney said.
Kim Noble, the director of operations for Green The Church, said environmental justice touches on many issues, including climate, the economy, health, social, and racial injustices.
African Americans learned about racism and injustices at an early age, and some know what being marginalized feels like, Noble said.
“We have folks in environmental justice communities that feel that way every day,” she said.
“When we’re having conversations about the environment, climate change, pollution, and climate policy, we have to include the people who are most impacted – our Black and brown families,” Noble said.
“For far too long, our communities have been on the receiving end of the devastating impacts of climate change and pollution. For example, our communities tend to live near power plants and other types of polluting plants which emit toxic air into the environment. These are making our families sick,” she said.
“It’s not that our communities are looking for homes located near power plants, but rather it’s a regular practice to place dirty emitters into communities of color and often in neighborhoods where low-income families live.
“That’s not fair. As a nation, we can do better. We know those clean energy solutions work. We need climate policy that supports 100 percent clean energy and cleans up the air so we can breathe. We also need policy that leads to good green jobs in our communities.”
The current election cycle is crucial for several reasons, said Kerene N. Tayloe, an environmental justice and clean energy solutions advocate for WE ACT.
The election presents a great chance to mobilize votes for candidates who are not climate deniers and understand the need to address environmental justice, she said.
“We must become active at the local level where so many decisions about land development and water infrastructure, for instance, are decided,” Tayloe said.
“We should also be keenly aware of how the demand for energy efficiency, renewable and clean energy can create jobs right in our communities. We must lead in the creation of solutions to ensure that the benefits flow creating opportunities for economic development.”
Tayloe said caring about the climate is not a “White thing.”
It is critical that African American, if they aren’t already, become aware of all of the ways climate change shows up in their lives, she said.
“Those record hurricanes, storms, flooding, extreme heat, and bitterly cold days that we are experiencing are because of climate change. In addition to climate change, for far too long Black and brown communities have been the sacrifice zones for wealthier and frankly whiter communities,” Tayloe said.
“It is not a coincidence that our communities are disproportionately the location of dangerous toxic facilities and are adjacent to the busiest highways,” she said. “All of these systemic problems impact our health, our property value, and the ability to gain economic independence.”